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Is Lowering Your Expectations the Way to Less Disappointment & More Happiness?

Lowering our expectations isn’t the best answer. Learn to manage the pain of unmet expectations and assess, then adjust your expectations really works!“People and events don’t disappoint us, our models of reality do. It is my model of reality that determines my happiness or disappointments.” ~ Stephan Zweig

Expectations are powerful. Yet they are often a hidden power, because we expect things, without being aware that we’re doing it. We need to bring our hidden, unhelpful expectations out into the open, so we can let them go before they limit our opportunities and damage our relationships. Then we can create space for helpful expectations that fuel our dreams and keep us motivated. However, lowering your expectations is NOT the answer to dealing with life’s disappointments. Here’s why…

What are expectations? An expectation is a belief that something is going to happen in a certain way. Expectations are rigid, inflexible assumptions, perhaps even demands, that, when unmet, cause negative reactions — anger, sadness, depression, anxiety. They are limited by our previous experiences. We can’t expect something we haven’t seen before. 

Where do expectations come from? Our expectations are largely formed by the place and time we’re born and how we’re raised. Just think about how your culture, race, ethnicity, gender, education, economic and social standing, even physical appearance impact your expectations. 

Expectations influence our behavior and attitudes and how we see the world and respond to it. They are often self-fulfilling prophecies. We, and those we impact, may succeed or fail depending on our expectations and beliefs.

Many expectations are based on how you want another human to behave, which is out of your control and bound to lead to disappointment. That’s okay and normal. However, an indicator of an unrealistic expectation is resentment.

When an expectation is unfulfilled, it’s unrealistic for that moment in time, but not necessarily for a future time. For example: Maybe your significant other forgot an important anniversary. It’s normal to feel disappointed; your response will tell if your expectation was realistic or not.

  • Holding to an unrealistic expectation will make you blow it out of proportion, .i.e., because he didn’t remember, bring me a gift, make me feel special, “he doesn’t love me”.  Perhaps you even become vengeful, “if that’s the way he’s going to be, then I’m going to…”
  • Realistically, there will be other anniversaries. How can you salvage the rest of the day/night in a way you both can enjoy?

It’s important to remember that merely expecting something will not make it happen. Not everyone will like you. The world isn’t fair. It’s okay to have disagreements, to momentarily feel depressed or anxious. It’s okay to make mistakes. Wishing only goes so far — work for what you want. If your expectation isn’t realized, communicate better!

Additionally, pinning your happiness on fulfilled expectations is an all-or-nothing kind of thinking about something you can’t control. Does that make sense? 

Since expectations often lead to disappointment, does this mean you should be lowering your expectations or giving up on them? 

Not at all. We need expectations. They push us to become the best version of ourselves. They help us form boundaries of what’s acceptable and what’s not. And they express confidence in others; we’re sure they can rise to the occasion.

Additionally, expectations are powerful teaching tools. Pause and see what they teach about yourself and others. Determine in detail why an expectation wasn’t met. Did that expectation make the situation more peaceful/productive? Why or why not?  What can you change to make it realistic tomorrow?

How to handle the pain without lowering your expectations…

Become more mindful of how your expectations are influencing you daily. A good exercise is to list your expectations around living fully, wealth, health, time management, clutter, doing chores, manners, relationships, sex, respect, honor, honesty, to name just a few things to get you started. Then review them to determine which ones are unrealistic. Fill in the following options…

  • I expect myself to…
  • I expect (person) to…

The best ways to manage unrealized, even unrealistic, expectations…

Practice Compassion: When you or someone doesn’t live up to your expectations, give yourself or them some slack. Slow down and see why it didn’t work. Were you overly tired? Were they stressed? Look for the reasons to let go of the pain. This involves being flexible, not demanding or blaming. A compassionate attitude is a team mentality asking, ”What can we do to get this back on track?” Also, think about what you would tell your best friend if she were in this situation. I imagine you’d be very patient and gentle with her. Extend that kindness to yourself.

Practice Gratitude: Don’t judge today’s lack of success as the whole story. There must be so many little things that inspire a sense of accomplishment and gratitude. Ultimately, accept that you and everyone else did the best they could with what they had today.

Avoid Comparison. We become discontent and unthankful when we compare our lives negatively to anyone else’s or to what we could accomplish at another time. Be kind to yourself and others.

Be Mindfully Present. This is an essential skill for determining whether your expectations are helpful or not. Recently I wrote an article on this topic of being present for the International Coaching Federation, which has 5 helpful tips you may enjoy.

The pain of unrealized expectations is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t aligned with your true self and purpose. It’s telling you to pay attention. Look for ways to make adjustments. Observe, acknowledge and, if necessary, communicate your feelings to the other person involved. And, if possible, simply let it go, so you move forward stronger and wiser. 

Rather than giving up or lowering your expectations, view it as an opportunity to adjust your dial to make your expectations more realistic, more attainable. This skill is part of the road map for my upcoming Stepping Forward Program into creating my life of meaning and fulfillment.  I invite you to download the Introduction to The Stepping Forward Program.


Thank you for the use of your photo Prophsee Journals on Unsplash.

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